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Though caught in the formula of workplace comedies past, FOX’s latest has humor, heart

“Even though ‘Enlisted’ seems tempted to follow the familiar formulas of workplace comedies past, more often it goes to a place entirely its own. It’s a place that is darker and more absurd — a place that is worth watching.”

FOX’s new program “Enlisted” is a workplace comedy with the same type of single-camera format seen on “The Office,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Scrubs.” While not perfect in its execution of this popular workplace genre, “Enlisted” — like those stationed at onscreen at the fictional Fort McGee — it is a show involving goofiness and heart, making it well worth watching.

In this Floridian Fort McGee, Staff Sergeant Pete Hill (Geoff Stults), his two brothers, Derrick and Randy (Chris Lowell and Parker Young) and a varied supporting cast are assigned to “rear D” work — a job which includes giving seminars on the dangers of sinkholes, home improvement and offering counseling to those whose spouses or family members have been deployed overseas.

“Enlisted” doesn’t fall short of achieving pure hilarity in this setting. Early in the show, which has currently logged five episodes, Derrick realizes his brother Randy is not a successful shooter because he is too emotional. His means of toughening his brother up? “Recite the entire synopsis of ‘Toy Story 3’ without crying,” he orders.

Military-related humor plays an obvious and integral part in the comedic success of “Enlisted.” “Have we ever talked without you bringing up your fake foot?” Pete Hill asks Command Sergeant Major Donald Cody (Keith David), who responds, “When your foot gets blown off, you can bring it up whenever you like.” Seems reasonable.

Such niche jokes, while funny, also contribute to the well-navigated discussion of service in a show located on a military base. “Enlisted” is respectful, but not unrealistically sensitive, gruff and hyper-competitive at times, but heartbreaking at others.

This is well represented by Pete’s central storyline. He begins his journey at Fort McGee because of an altercation with a superior officer while overseas in Afghanistan. When the third episode confronts the darker facets of Pete’s character, he finally opens up — albeit barely — about the trauma which affected him on his tour and has subsequently affected him back in Florida. Pete is respected, but not coddled in the discussion. He’s realistic. For a comedy, such serious and heartfelt moments are some of the best of the show.

Despite these successes, the show’s biggest flaw is that it tries too hard to adhere to standard “workplace comedy” models. The “will-they-won’t-they” relationship between Pete and fellow Sergeant Jill Perez (Angelique Cabral) escalates inconsistently and at inopportune moments. The screwball humor, mostly played by Randy Hill (Parker Young), often misses the mark. Even some of the ensemble cast members, like heavy-set Corporal Chubowski (Mel Rodriguez), are one-dimensional and dull.

Yet even though “Enlisted” seems tempted to follow the familiar formulas of workplace comedies past, more often it goes to a place entirely its own. It’s a place that is darker and more absurd — a place that is worth watching.

“Enlisted” airs Friday nights at 9 p.m. on FOX, and the five recently-aired episodes currently play for free on Hulu.

Published February 24, 2014 in tableau

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